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Prince Albert (1819–61)

Prince Albert was the second son of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and Princess Louise of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. He married Queen Victoria in 1840. Prince Albert was created Prince Consort in 1857. He died, aged 42, at Windsor Castle on 14 December 1861. His patronage of the arts in Britain led to the creation of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the founding of several national museums and greatly enhanced the Royal Collection.

Prince Albert was university-educated in Brussels and Bonn, and had also attended lectures on art history. He travelled in Italy and met several of the leading German artists and sculptors working there. His lifelong interest in and patronage of German neoclassical sculpture dates back to his time in Italy in the late 1830s.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria were first cousins and shared an uncle, Prince Leopold, later King of the Belgians. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria first met in 1836. Following regular correspondence, they met again in October 1839 and on this occasion, the Queen proposed marriage. The Queen confided in her journal on 15 October 1839:

At about 1/2 p.12, I sent for Albert; he came to the Closet where I was alone, and after a few minutes I said to him, that I thought he must be aware why I wished them to come here,- and that it would make me too happy if he would consent to what I wished (to marry me); we embraced each other over and over again, and he was so kind, so affectionate; oh! to feel I was, and am, loved by such an Angel as Albert, was too great delight to describe!

Queen Victoria's Journal, RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 15 October 1839 Princess Beatrice's Copies

They were married the following February.

Like Queen Victoria, Prince Albert was a proficient amateur artist and an inspired designer. There are over 500 of his works still in the Royal Collection. With his artistic advisor Ludwig Grüner, he personally oversaw the design of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, and later independently worked on the designs for Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire.

Prince Albert instigated the reorganisation and more systematic cataloguing of the Royal Collection, and created the Print Room at Windsor for the storage of works of art on paper. He led the initiation of a project using the new discipline of photography to collect images of all works by and after Raphael, whom Albert held to be the greatest Renaissance artist. As well as photographs, the Raphael Collection, as it came to be known, also incorporated a large number of reproductive prints made between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Raphael Collection was intended by Albert to be a study resource and source of inspiration for artists, designers and connoisseurs.

Photography was in its infancy at this time and Albert was a crucial early advocate of its uses for artistic and recording purposes. He also supported photography by commissioning, among others, one of the greatest photographers of the period, Roger Fenton.

Prince Albert’s greatest legacy is arguably the Great Exhibition which he co-founded with Henry Cole. Prince Albert chaired a Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition in 1851, designed to show the best of British and foreign arts, design and manufacture. The Great Exhibition was a huge success, drawing crowds from all over Britain and beyond, to marvel at the works on show. The lasting legacy of the Great Exhibition was the founding of the South Kensington group of museums including the Victoria & Albert Museum for design and the decorative arts.